Fitch working on shot with Smith's help

January 25, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Better shooting mechanics and more physical play will cure Kentucky senior guard Gerald Fitch's scoring slump. Or at least that's what UK coach Tubby Smith thinks going into today's game at Notre Dame.

Fitch was just 3-for-22 from the field, including 2-for-16 from 3-point range, in Kentucky's two previous games - a home-court loss to Georgia and overtime win at Tennessee.

"He pulled back on his shot (at Tennessee). Everything he shot was short," Smith said Friday. "It was mechanics more than anything. He also had a bigger guy contesting his shots. A couple of times he was hesitant after he missed shots and did not pull the trigger.

"Sometimes he also moves his body to get his elbow in line. Tayshaun (Prince) used to do the same thing."

Fitch is still UK's leading scorer at 16.6 points per game. That's about four points more per game than he averaged last season.


Smith has noted for several weeks that Fitch needed to move better without the ball to get open for shots because he's now the target of opposing defenses like Prince and Keith Bogans were in previous years. Smith also suggested Friday that Fitch needed to go inside and be more physical like he was as a freshman when he made his mark with rebounding and defense.

Fitch averages less than three free throws per game over his UK career, something Smith would like to see change.

"Gerald goes in there, but he's not physical enough," the Kentucky coach said. "Sometimes you just have to charge in there and get fouled."

Smith said as Fitch's role has evolved into more of a scorer, he's become less physical inside and now that's making it easier for teams to defend him.

"He's on the perimeter more now. We had other weapons then (when he was a freshman)," Smith said. "He's led us in 3-point percentage, but he's got to complement his outside game with inside play. He's not getting offensive rebounds, putting the ball back in and getting fouled."

Smith remembers when Bogans, who is now with the Orlando Magic, was facing the same dilemma.

"I told Keith he had to be an all-around defender. I told him you've got to do something to make yourself stand out in a crowd," Smith said. "It's the same with Gerald."

Fitch insists he'll be fine in today's game

"I can't keep having bad games. I know that," Fitch said. "But my shot is fixed now. It can be fixed in one day and it has been. Everybody has bad games. That's all it was."

Brey also worried about UK's inside game

Notre Dame (9-5) likely will still focus on Fitch, but Irish coach Mike Brey said he's also worried about matching up inside with Erik Daniels and Chuck Hayes.

"Their quickness concerns you," Brey said. "Daniels and Hayes are not 6-10, but they are skilled, quick and relentless. Our big guys being quick, bouncing around and reacting is a major concern."

Smith has the same concerns about Notre Dame's Torin Francis and Tom Timmermans, two 6-11 players.

"Their inside personnel is pretty physical," Smith said. "Francis is a real finisher. He'll be a load to contain inside. Timmermans can score on the move and bang people around."

Notre Dame's leader remains junior point guard Chris Thomas, who has struggled in two previous games against Kentucky.

"It is his team to lead," Brey said. "He can be a great quarterback and run the team, but he also needs to score at times. He's done a good job figuring out when those times are.

"He's a competitive son of a gun, so he'll remember those games against Kentucky. (Cliff) Hawkins has done a good job on him. Hawkins really gets up for that matchup and he's a physical defender. Our other guys have been shut down with their good half-court defense. Last year he was about the only guy who could get a shot off."

Smith hopes to keep giving Hawkins more frequent rests to keep him fresher late in the game. The coach said he would try to get Hawkins out before TV timeouts to give him extra time to rest.

"I think that did help at Tennessee," Hawkins, who hit the 3-point shot to send the game into overtime, said. "I didn't stay out long, but getting those short little breathers helps more than one long rest."

At the game, Notre Dame will honor its 1974 team that upset then-No. 1 and unbeaten UCLA.

The Irish also hope to make this their first big win on national TV in several years.

"I'm scared now," Smith joked when asked about today's atmosphere. "I don't know if we should go now."

He added that no matter the circumstances, players still decided who won games.

"I hope the leprechaun does not come on the court," Smith said of Notre Dame's lucky charm. "He may show up, but it's usually five on five."

Central Kentucky News Articles